by Jordan Adams - 04/13/2006
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Labeled as the consensus favorite for the second straight World Cup tournament, Brazil will head into Germany this summer attempting to successfully defend its 2002 World Cup title, won in Korea. The Brazilians are the heavy favorite again this year and sportsbooks have listed them at 5/2 odds to reign as back-to-back champions.
A 2006 win would be Brazil's third FIFA World Cup title in the last 12 years, but history may be this team's most difficult opponent. Since the inception of the World Cup in 1930, only two teams have successfully defended their title. One positive note going for the Brazilian national team is that they were one of those teams.
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Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 captured FIFA gold and were both awarded the Jules Rimet Trophy, the original FIFA trophy that allowed teams to return with the statue instead of the current version which is simply a replica.
The first team to successfully defend its World Cup title was Italy. The Italian's defense was assisted by the inaugural FIFA World Cup winners Uruguay in 1930. When they refused to defend their title in 1934, Italy took advantage and captured gold in 1934. The following tournament they rallied despite an opening game challenge that needed extra time to escape Norway, 2-1. They advanced to defeat host France and then Brazil and Hungary in the semi-finals and title game respectively.
If Brazil's 2006 team has high hopes of repeating, they ought to take a turn back in time and analyze the blueprint laid by the 1962 Brazilian team that defended its title in Chile. Brazil's success came in spite of losing superstar Pele in its second game of the tournament. It was the trio of Garrincha, Amarildo and Vava that helped their team secure back-to-back FIFA titles. A 3-1 victory over Czechoslovakia finished the tournament with a group of players that had been labeled 'one of the most talented generations of footballers the world has ever seen.'
If Brazil's chances come down to pure talent, then back-to-back titles could be a real possibility. Boasting such stars as Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka and Adriano, this year's Brazil squad has as few weaknesses as any team in the tournament. Dida, its excellent keeper, provides security for the defense, but defensive depth is also a plus. The likes of Cafu, Cicinho, Roque Junior and Roberto Carlos all have valuable experience that will prove important come June.
While Ronaldo and Ronaldinho set the pace offensively and are capable of scoring in every match, the young breed of newcomers will provide the edge Brazil needs to overcome opposing defenses. Juninho Pernambucano, Julio Baptista and the next great Brazilian footballer Robinho will add offensive depth to the mix of veteran talent.
If history sides with the field for the 2006 World Cup, Brazil would not be the first favorite to disappoint. One team's failure that we have witnessed could be seen similarly in Brazil's chances. In Korea in 2002 the French arrived as one of the heavy tournament favorites. They had captured FIFA gold previously in 1998 as the hosts, but four years later they fell flat on their faces. Although this same French class of players that headed to the 1998 World Cup notably were victorious two years earlier at the UEFA European Championship and labeled vastly improved, Zinedine Zidane and company were dethroned, and in the first round no less. As if their tournament flop weren't enough, they failed to score a single goal throughout their matches.
While Brazil knows it is capable of repeating, being only one of two teams to ever accomplish that feat, they also have been on the other side of the spectrum. In 1966, in England, Brazil became the first defending champions to be knocked out in the first phase of a FIFA World Cup. Despite having stars Pele and Garrincha on the field, their efforts were not enough to overcome defeats by both Hungary and Portugal.
Brazil is more than capable of securing its sixth World Cup title. However, if the Seleção wish to advance and challenge the world's best they must avoid a letdown and history's grim reality for defending champions.